Indian food is lauded around the world for its complex flavors, diverse spices, and aroma. Traveling to India is a dream of many and much of the experience is trying local food from chicken tikka masala to homemade samosas. Traditional recipes have been handed down through the generations, which may explain why locals have got the use of spice down to an art form.
Having spent 3 months traveling around India we were lucky enough to sample some of the best Indian food that the country had to offer. From some of the most famous Indian dishes like Biryani rice to incredible breakfast dishes like Masala Dosa it is easy to see why we fell in love with so many different Indian foods while we were there.
Best Indian Dishes to Try at Home or At An Indian Restaurant
One thing that rings true is that while other popular cuisines around the world may have a few amazing dishes, India’s culinary strength really lies in the vast assortment of dishes and desserts. When we were traveling around India, or even when we are cooking at home, we could try something new every day. So, to help guide you, here are our picks for the most popular Indian dishes to try on your next trip to India or even an Indian restaurant. Before starting your adventures around India, check out our guide to essential items for your trip.
1. Butter Chicken
The mere mention of Butter Chicken brings a tantalizing image of creamy, vibrant, and heartily spiced gravy with tender pieces of chicken. Whether you’re traversing through the lanes of India or experimenting with Indian flavors at home, Butter Chicken, also known as Murgh Makhani, is a dish you’ll find hard to resist. A dish from Northern India, particularly New Delhi, it has now become a global representative of Indian cuisine.
Butter Chicken’s humble origin story revolves around minimizing waste and maximizing flavor. Restaurateurs in the mid-20th century, looking to salvage and utilize leftover tandoori chicken, concocted this luscious dish that pairs perfectly with naan or basmati rice. The recipe’s magic lies in a beautifully balanced, smooth tomato sauce enriched with onions, cream, and butter. Every household and restaurant across India has its take on Butter Chicken, and you should try as many as possible.
As a quintessentially Indian dish, Butter Chicken is a fantastic starting point to delve into Indian cuisine and as I said above is my favorite! here is the recipe I use at home.
2. Tandoori Chicken
A culinary gem from the heart of Punjab, Tandoori Chicken is a feast not just for your taste buds but for your eyes too. The vibrant red hue of this dish is as appetizing as its smoky, grilled flavor. As another symbol of North Indian cuisine, Tandoori Chicken is a testament to the allure of spices and the magic of traditional cooking techniques.
Tandoori Chicken derives its name from the ‘Tandoor,’ a clay oven used extensively in Indian cooking. Marinated in a flavorful blend of yogurt and spices like cumin, coriander, and garam masala, the chicken is then slow-cooked in the Tandoor Oven. The result is succulent, smoky chicken with a slightly charred exterior, ready to be devoured with a squeeze of lime and a side of mint chutney. Whether you’re in an Indian restaurant or a street food stall, the sight and smell of Tandoori Chicken are simply hard to resist.
3. Chicken Tikka Masala
A symbol of Britain’s multicultural cuisine, Chicken Tikka Masala is a beloved dish with an Indian soul. The dish is a medley of tender chicken tikka pieces simmered in a rich, creamy tomato sauce, bursting with flavors of traditional Indian spices. Its vibrant color and exquisite taste make it a universal favorite.
Chicken Tikka Masala begins with chicken pieces being marinated in a mixture of yogurt and a blend of spices and then grilled to perfection. The grilled chicken tikka pieces are then simmered in a mouth-watering sauce made with tomatoes, cream, and a symphony of Indian spices, imparting an irresistible depth of flavor to the dish.
The char-grilled aroma of the tikkas, the tangy sweetness of the tomato-based sauce, the spiciness of the Indian masalas, and the rich creaminess of the dish all play a symphony of flavors on the palate. Chicken Tikka Masala, with its alluring flavors, is truly a dish that captures the essence of Indian cuisine.
4. Rogan Josh
Originally hailing from the beautiful valley of Kashmir, Rogan Josh is a tasty curry that is as rich in flavors as it is in history. Rogan Josh is a delicately spiced meat curry, typically made with braised lamb chunks or beef, cooked in a sauce that’s aromatic, rich, and absolutely delicious.
Rogan Josh, when translated, means ‘red heat,’ which is fitting considering the color and warmth this dish exudes. The meat is cooked slowly in a gravy flavored with a combination of spices such as ginger, bay leaves, cardamom, and the all-important Kashmiri red chili, which gives the curry its distinctive deep red hue.
The end result is a dish that’s rich and hearty, where the meat absorbs the flavors of the spices to become tender and succulent. The layers of flavors in this dish are complex and delicately balanced, with a warmth that’s comforting, and a depth of flavor that leaves a lasting impression.
A dish with roots tracing back to the royal kitchens of the Mughal empire, Korma is a creamy, aromatic curry that can be made with various proteins such as chicken, lamb, or paneer. The word ‘Korma’ is derived from the Urdu word ‘Kormah,’ which means ‘to braise,’ aptly describing the cooking process involved in making this dish.
The protein is gently cooked with a mixture of yogurt, cream, and a blend of spices, resulting in a mildly spiced, creamy curry. The sauce’s richness is perfectly balanced by the subtle fragrance of spices like cardamom, cinnamon, and nutmeg, creating a delicately flavored curry that is simply irresistible.
Korma’s charm lies in its versatility and balance of flavors. Despite its rich and creamy texture, it doesn’t overpower the palate, making it a hit among those who prefer milder curries. Whether served with rice or naan, Korma adds a touch of royal decadence to any meal.
6. Pani Puri
Indian street food is a category unto itself, and no culinary journey across India would be complete without trying Pani Puri. These bite-sized, flavor-packed morsels are more than just a popular snack – they’re a beloved cultural phenomenon. Pani Puri, known by different names across regions (like Golgappa in North India and Puchka in Bengal), is a dish that encapsulates the thrilling adventure that is Indian street food.
Pani Puri’s essence lies in its contrasting textures and flavors. The ‘Puri’ is a hollow, crisp-fried ball made from semolina or wheat flour, which is filled with a mixture of mashed potatoes, spices, and tamarind chutney. The ‘Pani’ is a tangy, spiced water typically made with tamarind, mint, and a unique blend of spices. To eat, the Puri is filled with the Pani just before consumption and popped whole into the mouth. The result? A burst of flavors and textures that’s nothing short of a party in your mouth. Exploring Indian cuisine without savoring Pani Puri would be like visiting Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower.
Hailing from South India, dosa is one of those famous Indian dishes that changes as you travel around the country. Not that this is a bad thing. Every Indian restaurant has its own wonderful twist on this delectable dish. Dosa is a thin pancake made from the batter of fermented rice. You could eat dosa as a standalone treat, however, you would miss out on many aromatic spices. Try it with chutney or sambar, or even spiced potatoes.
At its core, a Dosa is a simple dish, but the art of making a Dosa is a skill that’s honed over the years. The batter is spread thinly over a hot griddle and cooked until it turns into a crispy, golden crepe. Whether enjoyed plain with a side of sambar (a tangy lentil soup) and coconut chutney or stuffed with a spicy potato filling (Masala Dosa), every bite of a Dosa promises a crunch that gives way to soft, fluffy insides.
Across South India, you’ll find a multitude of Dosa variants, each offering a unique experience. From the thick, soft-set ‘set dosa’ of Karnataka to the paper-thin ‘neer dosa’ of coastal regions, the diversity of Dosas is as fascinating as the culture it originates from. Despite these variations, what remains constant is the soul-satisfying experience that a simple Dosa offers.
Common variations for dosa include Set Dosa, Masala Dosa, and Paneer Dosa (cheese). As they’re small and thin, pair them with other popular Indian dishes, such as chickpea curry.
8. Butter Naan (Leavened Flatbread)
An Indian meal is often considered incomplete without the inclusion of Naan, and Butter Naan is one of the most popular varieties. Soft, fluffy, and slathered in melted butter, Butter Naan is a delicious bread that perfectly complements both rich curries and dry dishes.
Traditionally cooked in a tandoor or clay oven, Naan has a unique charred flavor and a wonderfully soft texture. The addition of butter not only adds richness but also brings a slight sweetness, making the bread a delightful accompaniment to spicy Indian dishes.
The versatile nature of Butter Naan allows it to seamlessly fit into any meal, whether it’s scooping up a creamy Dal Makhani, wrapping spicy tandoori chicken, or simply being enjoyed with a dollop of mango chutney. Its ability to elevate the overall dining experience is what makes Butter Naan a must-try item in any Indian restaurant.
9. Papdi Chaat
When it comes to Indian street food, Chaat rules supreme, and Papdi Chaat is one of the most loved varieties. This dish is a perfect balance of flavors and textures, combining crispy fried dough wafers (papdi) with boiled chickpeas, potatoes, yogurt, chutneys, and a sprinkle of spices.
Papdi Chaat is a flavor explosion in every bite – the crispiness of the papdi, the softness of the boiled potatoes and chickpeas, the tanginess of the tamarind chutney, the sweetness of the yogurt, all tied together with the warmth of chaat masala. It’s a dish that engages all your senses and leaves a lingering taste of deliciousness.
Whether it’s a hot summer day or a cool winter evening, Papdi Chaat is a dish that is always satisfying. The combination of flavors and textures makes this dish not just a culinary delight, but also a fascinating gastronomical experience.
10. Chana Masala (Chickpea Curry)
Chana Masala, also known as Chole Masala, is a vibrant and flavorful dish that features chickpeas as the star ingredient. This dish, with its rich, tangy, and spicy gravy, is a staple in many North Indian households and is beloved by vegetarians and meat-eaters alike.
The chickpeas are cooked in a tomato-onion gravy that’s spiced with a unique blend of spices known as ‘chole masala.’ The resulting dish is a hearty, satisfying curry with a complex flavor profile. The soft, protein-rich chickpeas absorb the flavors of the spices, making each bite an explosion of taste.
Chana Masala is typically served with rice or Bhature (a type of fried bread), but it is versatile enough to be enjoyed with any Indian bread. This dish’s robust flavors, nourishing ingredients, and comforting warmth make it a popular choice in Indian restaurants around the world.
11. Vindaloo Curry
Originating from the western Indian region of Goa, Vindaloo Curry is a fiery and tangy dish typically made with pork, although chicken, lamb, or prawns versions are also popular. The dish’s name, ‘Vindaloo,’ is derived from the Portuguese words ‘vinho’ (wine) and ‘alhos’ (garlic), reflecting its historical roots in Portuguese cuisine.
Vindaloo Curry is characterized by its bold, hot, and sour flavors. The heat comes from the generous use of dried red chilies, while the sour element is introduced by vinegar, which also acts as a meat tenderizer. The dish is slow-cooked, allowing the meat to absorb the intense flavors and become succulent and flavorful.
Despite its reputation for being extremely spicy, Vindaloo Curry’s heat level can be adjusted to suit individual tastes. Regardless of the heat level, the dish’s vibrant flavors make it a favorite among those who enjoy bold, spicy dishes. If you are an adventurous foodie, Vindaloo Curry is a must-try dish on any Indian restaurant menu.
12. Aloo Matar
One of the best Indian vegetarian dishes is Aloo Matar. Although you’ll likely find meat options on your travels through India, it’s a simple and delicious vegan dish you can make at home. Aloo Matar is essentially potatoes and peas and hails from the Punjab region at the tip of northern India. Many versions of the dish simmer the potatoes and peas in coconut milk while others cook them in a spiced tomato sauce.
The beauty of this easy dish is the ability to tailor it to your taste and add your own style along the way. But to keep up some tradition, serve with basmati rice or masala dosa. Get this easy recipe from Allrecipes.
Few dishes in Indian cuisine capture the nation’s culinary diversity and history like Biryani. A fragrant, spiced rice dish laden with succulent pieces of meat (often chicken, mutton, or fish), Biryani is a sensory feast that hails from the kitchens of Indian royalty. As you embark on the Biryani trail across India, you’ll discover that every region lends its distinctive touch, making this dish a symbol of unity in variety.
Biryani’s origin traces back to the Mughal Empire, with influences from Persian cuisine. The name “Biryani” comes from the Persian word ‘Birian’, which means ‘fried before cooking.’ True to its name, the rice is often fried in ghee before being cooked with meat and an array of aromatic spices like cardamom, cloves, and saffron, resulting in a dish that is as flavorful as it is fragrant. Some regional variations even include additions like boiled eggs, potatoes, or dried fruits.
Biryani, served traditionally in a handi (a deep, round-bottomed pot), is not just a dish, it’s a culinary experience that transports you back in time to royal courts and grand feasts. Whether you’re a novice to Indian cuisine or a seasoned connoisseur, a plate of Biryani is not to be missed.
14. Gulab Jamun
To round off our journey through Indian cuisine, we must make a stop at desserts, and Gulab Jamun is one of the most loved sweets. These soft, spongy balls made from milk solids, deep-fried and soaked in sugar syrup, are a delightful conclusion to any Indian meal.
Gulab Jamun gets its name from two words: ‘Gulab,’ meaning rose (for the rose-flavored sugar syrup), and ‘Jamun,’ which is a fruit similar in size and shape to these sweet dumplings. The result is a dessert that is rich, sweet, and absolutely indulgent.
When you bite into a Gulab Jamun, you’re greeted with a burst of sweetness that’s balanced by the mild flavor of rose water. The exterior is slightly chewy, while the inside is soft and almost melts in your mouth. The warmth and sweetness of Gulab Jamun make it a dessert worth trying in any Indian restaurant.
Samosa, a delectable, deep-fried snack, enjoys a place of honor in the league of popular Indian street food. It’s a culinary icon, with its triangular shape, flaky exterior, and savory filling offering a delicious contrast of textures and flavors. Samosas are versatile, with countless variations of fillings across different regions in India.
The classic version, however, comprises a spicy mixture of mashed potatoes and peas, seasoned with a range of spices like cumin, coriander, and garam masala. This stuffing is enveloped in a crisp pastry shell, which is then deep-fried to golden perfection. The result is a snack that’s crunchy on the outside with a soft, flavorful interior that warms the palate.
But a Samosa isn’t just about the snack itself. It’s about the experience that surrounds it. Picture this: a piping hot samosa served with a side of tangy tamarind chutney and a bowl of spicy chickpea curry. Each bite is a balance of textures, a medley of flavors, and an absolute delight to the senses. Whether served at street-side stalls, in high-end restaurants or made at home, Samosas never fail to bring a sense of joy and satisfaction.
Hailing from the vibrant land of Punjab, Dal Makhani is a dish that perfectly captures the essence of Indian cooking. It is a delightful combination of whole black lentils (urad dal) and red kidney beans (rajma), slowly cooked in a rich, creamy sauce. The name ‘Makhani’ translates to ‘buttery,’ aptly describing the velvety texture and rich taste of this popular Indian dish.
The magic of Dal Makhani lies in the slow cooking process. The lentils and beans are simmered on low heat for several hours, allowing them to absorb the flavors of tomatoes, ginger, garlic, and an array of aromatic Indian spices. A dollop of cream and butter added towards the end gives the dish its characteristic richness and a creamy texture that is hard to resist.
Served with a side of naan or rice, Dal Makhani is a hearty, comforting dish that’s a staple in Punjabi households and a popular choice in Indian restaurants worldwide. Each spoonful offers a burst of flavor, the slight tanginess of the tomatoes perfectly balancing the creaminess of the lentils, while the spices add a hint of warmth that lingers on the palate.
17. Saag Paneer (Palak Paneer)
Venture into the heartland of North India, and you’ll come across a verdant culinary delight known as Palak Paneer. This dish, loved by vegetarians and meat-eaters alike, elegantly combines the richness of paneer (Indian cottage cheese) with the earthy goodness of spinach (palak). A staple in households and restaurants, Palak Paneer offers a delightful way to include greens in your diet without compromising on taste.
The dish’s origins are traced back to the verdant fields of Punjab, where both spinach and dairy are in abundant supply. The preparation involves blanching fresh spinach leaves and grinding them into a smooth puree. Paneer cubes are then simmered in this puree along with a medley of spices, resulting in a vibrant green, creamy curry.
Each mouthful of Palak Paneer offers a comforting blend of subtle spinach sweetness and the mild creaminess of paneer, all tied together by the warm undertones of spices like cumin, garam masala, and garlic. Served alongside warm roti or fragrant basmati rice, Palak Paneer is a testament to the comforting, homely side of Indian cuisine.
18. Malai Kofta
When it comes to indulgent, decadent dishes in Indian cuisine, Malai Kofta tops the list. This dish, which hails from the Mughal kitchens, is a delicious amalgamation of rich, creamy gravy and soft, melt-in-your-mouth koftas (deep-fried balls). Malai Kofta is proof that vegetarian dishes can be just as luxurious and satisfying as their meat counterparts.
The koftas are made from a mix of mashed potatoes, paneer (Indian cottage cheese), and a handful of nuts and raisins for a hint of sweetness. These koftas are then drowned in a silky smooth gravy made from tomatoes, onions, cashews, and a medley of spices. Each mouthful of Malai Kofta is an explosion of flavors and textures, making it a dish you’ll remember long after your meal. With its rich taste and elegant presentation, Malai Kofta is truly a celebration of Indian vegetarian cuisine.
Dhokla, a fluffy, tangy snack from the Indian state of Gujarat, stands out with its light, airy texture and mild flavors. Dhokla exemplifies the versatility of Gujarati cuisine, combining simple ingredients with delicate cooking methods to create a dish that is both delicious and nutritious.
To make Dhokla, a fermented batter of rice and chickpea flour is steamed until it rises into a soft, sponge-like cake. A tempering of mustard seeds, green chilies, and a pinch of sugar is then poured over it for added flavor. The end product is a subtly sweet, mildly tangy, and utterly delightful snack often served with a side of tangy tamarind chutney. Dhokla is a perfect example of a dish that is light on the palate yet leaves a lasting impression.
20. Aloo Gobi
A simple yet satisfying dish, Aloo Gobi is a classic Indian curry that combines two humble vegetables – potatoes (aloo) and cauliflower (gobi). Despite its simplicity, Aloo Gobi holds a special place in Indian cuisine, with its homely flavors making it a staple in households across the country.
The beauty of Aloo Gobi lies in the delicate balance of flavors. The vegetables are sautéed with onions, tomatoes, and a blend of spices, resulting in a dish that’s subtly spiced yet profoundly flavorful. The mild sweetness of cauliflower and the earthy taste of potatoes complement each other perfectly, making Aloo Gobi a delightful treat for the palate.
Aloo Gobi’s versatility is another aspect of its appeal. It pairs equally well with Indian breads like roti and naan, and with rice dishes. It can be enjoyed as a main course or as a side dish, its comforting flavors make it a popular choice for any meal.
21. Masala Chai
Although not Indian food, Masala Chai belongs on this list because no cuisine experience in India would be complete without it. Masala Chai is spiced black tea with milk later added and the tea has roots spanning back thousands of years.
Flavors can vary depending on the region you try, but generally, the masala is a blend of cloves, green cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, and black pepper. If you’ve had chai at home, expect a more vibrant, herbal, and spiced beverage.
22. Chole Bhature
A match made in culinary heaven, Chole Bhature is a combination of spicy chickpea curry (Chole) and deep-fried bread (Bhature). This dish’s appeal lies in its contrasting textures and robust flavors, making it a popular choice for breakfast or lunch across North India. With every bite, Chole Bhature offers a sensational gastronomic journey that leaves one craving for more.
Chole, the chickpea curry, is a symphony of tastes and aromas, created by simmering chickpeas in a spicy, tangy sauce made of tomatoes, onions, ginger, and a blend of Indian spices. On the other hand, Bhature is a fluffy, golden bread, deep-fried to perfection, providing a crispy exterior and a soft, airy interior. Together, these create a pairing that’s nothing short of magic.
Served typically with a side of pickles and a cooling yogurt raita, Chole Bhature is a hearty meal, each mouthful a celebration of the rich culinary traditions of India. The tanginess of the pickles, the cooling effect of the yogurt, and the spicy warmth of the chole create a delightful contrast, making this dish an absolute must-try in any Indian restaurant.
A quintessential breakfast dish hailing from the heartland of Madhya Pradesh, Poha, or flattened rice, is a beloved Indian dish, savored in various forms across the country. It encapsulates the simplicity of Indian cuisine, transforming humble ingredients into a flavorful, nutritious start to the day. With a delicate balance of tastes and textures, Poha offers a culinary experience that is both comforting and invigorating.
The process of making Poha involves gently cooking the flattened rice flakes in a tempering of mustard seeds, turmeric, and green chilies. The dish is then adorned with fresh coriander, a sprinkle of lemon juice, and a handful of crunchy peanuts. Every bite of Poha presents a playful mingling of flavors, the heat from the chilies counterbalanced by the freshness of the lemon, and the soft texture of the flattened rice contrasted by the crunch of peanuts. It’s this beautiful interplay that makes Poha not just a dish, but an emotion, a warm, comforting embrace to start the day with.
24. Goan Prawn Curry
Moving towards the sun-kissed beaches and swaying palm trees of Goa, we discover a seafood lover’s paradise. The Goan Prawn Curry, also known as Ambot Tik, is a dish that beautifully marries local seafood bounty with the region’s Portuguese influences and Indian spices, presenting a flavorful escapade for your palate.
In Goa’s coastal climate, fresh seafood is a staple, and the Goan Prawn Curry has evolved as a beloved classic. This dish features succulent prawns simmered in a fiery, tangy sauce made from dried red chilies, tamarind, and a blend of spices unique to the Konkan coast. The secret to this dish’s extraordinary flavor lies in the balance of heat from the chilies, tanginess from the tamarind, and the sweetness of the prawns. Paired with steamed rice, the Goan Prawn Curry offers a taste of the Arabian Sea with every spoonful. As you explore the breadth of Indian cuisine, don’t miss out on this coastal gem, especially if you’re a seafood aficionado.
What To Know About Traditional Indian Food
What are the top 10 Indian Dishes?
By far the top 10 Indian Dishes you should try at an Indian restaurant are Biryani, Tandoori Chicken, Butter Chicken, Samosas, Pav Bhaji, Rogan Josh, Masala Dosa, Pani Puri, Chole Bhature and Gulab Jamun.
What is the Most Popular Indian Dish?
In terms of popularity, Biryani takes the crown. This layered rice dish, with its fragrant spices, tender meat, and flavorful rice, has a universal appeal that transcends borders and cultures. Its popularity is not only confined to India, but it has also won the hearts of food lovers around the globe, making it a mainstay in Indian restaurants worldwide.
What is the No 1 food item in India?
If we were to identify the number one food item in India, once again, Biryani would take that honor. Its popularity in various regions of India, each with its unique twist on the dish, combined with its rich, indulgent flavors, makes Biryani the undisputed champion of Indian cuisine.
With endless dishes to try, especially as your palate gets used to the spices, you may never get bored with Indian food. Throughout the country, you will discover an abundance of different culinary styles that add a fresh take on popular dishes. Back home, many Indian meals are easy to recreate owing to both their simplicity and presence within our shopping aisles.
Whether you’re cooking up a butter chicken or treating yourself to some Gulab Jamun, your Indian culinary journey is one of a thousand steps.